Obit: Cameron, John Roderick (1922 - 2005)

Surnames: Cameron, Herb, Suntharalingam, Kenney, Skofronick, Grant

----Source: Physics Today August 2005

Cameron, John Roderick (21 Apr. 1922 - 16 Mar. 2005)

John Roderick Cameron, emeritus professor of medical physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, died of complications stemming from renal failure on 16 March 2005 in Gainesville, Florida.

John was born on a farm in Chippewa County, Wisconsin, on 21 April 1922. He served in the US Army Signal Corps from 1941 to 1946. A year later, he received his BS in mathematics from the University of Chicago. He did his graduate work in physics at the University of Wisconsin under Ray Herb and received a doctorate in 1952 for his thesis entitled "Elastic Scattering of Alpha Particles by Oxygen."

During the next two years, John was an assistant professor at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, and for two years after that he was an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1958 he joined the UW-Madison radiology department as an assistant professor, with a joint appointment in the department of physics.

Under his guidance over the next three decades, the UW medical physics program grew from a one-physicist operation to one of the largest and most productive in the world. In 1981 the program became the first US department of medical physics, and John served as chair from its beginning until his retirement in 1986. Among the department's graduates are leading medical physicists in the field, a record that was a source of great personal pride for him. Known for several innovative contributions to medical physics, John investigated and advanced the use of thermoluminescence for dosimetry. With Nagalingam Suntharalingam and Gordon Kenney, he wrote Thermoluminescent Dosimetry (U. of Wisconsin Press, 1968), one of the first books in the field. That technology replaced traditional film densitometry to become the standard for radiation monitoring of individuals who work in areas where they might be exposed to x rays and other sources of radiation. John also invented bone densitometry, which uses precise radiation measurements to determine the mineral content of bone. One of his early bone densitometry publications was listed as the most-cited article in the 25th-anniversary issue of Investigative Radiology. His seminal work in that field led to many useful clinical applications of highly accurate bone densitometry, and numerous companies have commercialized the technology.

John was interested in developing new applications of physics in medicine. At UW-Madison he encouraged early developments in ultrasound, positron imaging, digital angiography, and magnetoencephalography. In 1978, Medical Physics (Wiley), written by John and James Skofronick, was published. He also developed tools to evaluate the quality of x-ray images, work that led to quality-assurance product development by several companies. In 1985, John founded Medical Physics Publishing, a nonprofit corporation whose initial objective was to provide reprints of useful out-of-print books. That company now publishes its own books in medical physics, including John's The Physics of the Body (1999), which John wrote with Skofronick and Roderick Grant. That text has been translated into Greek and Korean and has been used in major universities in a number of countries.

After retirement, John used his imagination and creativity to educate people about the benefits and risks of radiation used in medicine. Especially concerned about the public's fear of low-level radiation, he spent time analyzing data and argued that those fears were probably unfounded.

John was involved in numerous professional activities and served many organizations as an officer, board member, or adviser. He was a founding member of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine and served as its 10th president in 1968. He retained a lifelong interest in promoting medical physics around the world; he lectured extensively in Europe and supported activities in developing countries, especially in Central and Latin America. John received many honors, including the Coolidge Award from AAPM in 1980 and the Roentgen Centennial Award from the Radiological Society of North America in 1995. He received his most recent honor in 2000, when the International Organisation for Medical Physics awarded him the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award for his activities in medical physics education in developing countries.

John was full of optimism, had a great sense of humor, and was always armed with a joke or two. He took great pride in his Scottish frugality and demonstrated it with humor. Office assistants and families of graduate students remember John as the professor who played "Happy Birthday" on his teeth, cooked eggs on a camping stove at early morning "breakfast picnics," and led canoe trips down the Wisconsin River to his summer cottage.

Perhaps his greatest legacy is the many students, trainees, and young faculty whose careers he nurtured. He was an extremely caring and generous man who went out of his way to ensure that each of those young people had the best opportunity to develop their careers. Many of us in medical physics owe a debt of gratitude to John. He is greatly missed.



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